Hartford E. Bess, chairman of the High School Alumni Association, penned a rather overwrought tribute to William H.A. Howard, former principal of Darden High School, in 1932. As is hinted in the piece, the year before, Howard had left the school under a cloud of accusations of sexual harassment, mishandling funds and other charges.
The Wilson Normal & Industrial Institute was one of four sites commemorated by historical markers placed by Wilson County Historical Association in 2020. For more about the incident that led to school’s establishment, see here.
In the scheme of the cataclysm that was March 2020, the closing of Say Their Names just two weeks after it opened was a small matter. It was a disappointment though. Though Imagination Station reopened later in the year, the pandemic raged on through the end of the year, and the exhibit closed in January 2021. Around that time though, Bill Myers, Executive Director of Freeman Round House and African-American Museum, reached out to ask if Say Their Names could move permanently to the Round House. Imagination Station said yes, and I, of course, agreed. Betsey Peters Rascoe and her talented team at Design Dimension adapted the original exhibit for the new space, which opened in March. If you weren’t able to see Say Their Names before, please stop by when you’re finally out and about again.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Harper Lane, farmer Charlie T. Jones, 52; wife Stella [sic], 49; and children William E., 23, farm laborer, Louise M., 20, and Sadie [sic], 14.
Sudye Jones died 4 February 1937 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Per her death certificate, she was 21 years old; was single; was the daughter of Charles T. Jones and Gertrude Johnson; and was a student at Bennett College. She died of meningitis. Rev. Charles T. Jones, 402 North Vick Street, was informant.
Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the resignation of 11 African-American teachers in Wilson, North Carolina, in rebuke of their “high-handed” black principal and the white school superintendent who slapped one of them. In their wake, black parents pulled their children out of the public school en masse and established a private alternative in a building owned by a prominent black businessman. Financed with 25¢-a-week tuition payments and elaborate student musical performances, the Independent School operated for nearly ten years. The school boycott, sparked by African-American women standing at the very intersection of perceived powerless in the Jim Crow South, was an astonishing act of prolonged resistance that unified Wilson’s black toilers and strivers.
The school boycott is largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes go unsung. In their honor, today, and every April 9, I publish links to these Black Wide-Awake posts chronicling the walk-out and its aftermath. Please read and share and speak the names of Mary C. Euell and the revolutionary teachers of the Colored Graded School.
Add Mary Church Terrell to the surprising list of nationally prominent African-Americans with speaking engagements in Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century.
Wilson Daily Times, 15 April 1925.
This notice of Terrell’s appearance is curious. “Half the proceeds for the benefit of the Kenan Street school”? The Kenan Street School, later known as Frederick A. Woodard School, was a white-only elementary school. Why would Terrell, an activist for civil rights and women’s causes (and, especially, their intersection), appear at such a benefit?
Wilson Daily Times, 15 April 1925.
A companion piece penned by J.D. Reid, principal of Wilson’s Colored Graded School, named a different beneficiary — the County Commencement of the Colored Schools, which were to be held at Banner Warehouse in downtown Wilson. “Prof. J.L. Cooke” — Jerry L. Cooke, who was not a professor at all, but a railway postal clerk — was in charge of the local entertainment, which included James Weldon Johnson’s poem “O Southland!” and a selection of Negro spirituals. The ever-popular Excelsior Band was also on the bill.
“From 1932 to 1964, Mrs. Bethel was employed in the Wilson city schools system where she furthered the use of her musical talents. For many years, she was the musical assistant for the Darden School Choir.
“In addition she has taught private classes in piano and organizing for a number of students in the Wilson community, while at the same time serving as organist for the St. Mark’s Mission. Mrs. Bethel’s contribution to music at St. Mark’s Mission will be recognized during the concert by the St. Augustine’s choir, which is said to be a tribute to all the makers of music to the greater glory of God.”
In 1934, Wilson Chamber of Commerce published this promotional guide extolling the virtues of Wilson County.
The introduction to the town sets the perspective.
Wilson had a population of more than 12,000 in 1934, of whom about 40% were African-American. They were of little interest to the Chamber of Commerce, however, and were not among the target audience for Facts About Wilson.
“The Mercy Hospital for colored people only was reorganized as a community basis in 1928. It is controlled by a board of trustees. All physicians of the town and county, both white and colored, are eligible for membership on the staff. This hospital is used by Wilson, Pitt, and Green[e]Counties, as it is the only hospital in three counties for colored people.”
There’s a lot to digest in the pages above, but it all boils down to the values in the columns for “white” and “colored.” For example, the ten white school buildings were valued at $800,131, and the 23 colored schools (more because so many were one- or two-rooms) at $48,592.
“The negroes of Wilson maintain separate churches, and the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian congregations are especially large, active and well organized. Six smaller negro churches here also serve this race in Wilson.”
The list of white organizations ran one full page into a second. Only two Black groups — the Odd Fellows and Masons — made the brochure’s cut, however.
Hat tip to Brooke Bissette Farmer for sharing this find, which is digitized here and held in the Rare Book Collection Archives of East Carolina University’s Joyner Library.